Restaurants face closing if indoor dining ban extends

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Restrictions on indoor dining are set to expire Sunday, but restaurant workers are worried state health officials may once again extend the order.

Jeff Lobdell, the president of Restaurant Partners Management LLC., said keeping restaurant dining rooms closed any longer will come with major consequences.

Lobdell said the most recent order has already taken a toll on his dozen or so restaurants in the Grand Rapids area, putting hundreds of hardworking people out of a job.

“Last year at this time, Rockwell Republic employed over 80 people,” Lobdell said about one of his downtown restaurants. “It’s the best time of year — we have all sorts of banquets and holiday parties.”

This holiday season, Rockwell Republic has only five employees after 40 or so of its regular staff were furloughed due to the partial shutdown.

Keeping on a skeletons staff is the best most restaurants can do after the latest COVID-19 restrictions took effect in mid-November, closing dining rooms across the state.

“All of our servers, bartenders, support staff and cooks we had to lay off,” Rockwell Republic’s assistant manager Amanda Zilke said. “Just not knowing how they’re going to make ends meet and just trying to do what we can to help them.”

Like a lot of restaurants, Rockwell Republic is still offering takeout and delivery service during this time. But Lobdell said if the state’s current COVID-19 restrictions get extended, they’ll have to suspend all food service entirely.

“We’ve decided if we can’t get our dining rooms open on Monday, which we’re praying we can, (then) we’re going to shut down completely,” Lobdell said about Rockwell Republic. “It’ll be temporary — until we can reopen our dining rooms.

Lobdell said staying open in this capacity would cause too much of a financial hit.

“When we’re shut down to do nothing but takeout, there’s so much overhead that the restaurant loses $15,000 (per week), and if we shut down completely, we lose $10,000,” Lobdell said.

Most important to Lobdell is being able to bring his people back to work before the holidays.

He said even if dining rooms could reopen at 25% capacity, his restaurant group could bring back 270 local employees that are currently furloughed due to the shutdown.

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